Oz Clarke delivers a rollicking read together with some great wine knowledge in his new book. Settle in and enjoy the ride...
The first wine book I bought was Oz Clarke’s Wine Guide back in the late 80s, when Oz still had hair. I still have it on my bookshelves alongside several more well-thumbed tomes, such as his seminal ‘New Classic Wines‘, ‘Grapes & Wines’ (with Margaret Rand), ‘Bordeaux‘ and ‘The History of Wine in 100 Bottles’.
Oz was also the first person I saw on tv who talked about wine in an engaging and entertaining way, so it’s probably fair to say that he has done more to spark, inspire and maintain my interest in wine than anyone else. I suspect that’s the case for a lot of Decanter readers too.
His new book ‘Red & White: An unquenchable thirst for wine‘ is something of a departure. Unlike much of his recent work, this isn’t a purely a technical reference book for wine geeks like me. Instead, it’s aimed at anyone who likes wine, wants to know more and loves a damn good yarn in the process.
That said, I defy any wine geek not to love it because it is so full of joie de vivre, wit, opinion and anecdotes. And despite the light touch and lyricism, it’s certainly not lacking serious wine content. For instance, Oz covers how to taste and what to look for in different grape varieties as well as key wine trends, styles and regions.
It’s also very personal book. The touching inscription to his young daughter really sums it up, saying simply, ‘This is Daddy’s world.’
Falling in love with wine
The early autobiographical chapters on ‘Planet Oz’ are laugh-out-loud and we first meet him at Oxford where he falls head over heels in love with wine. From there he makes his way onto the West End stage, at which point he has to decide whether to continue to tread the boards or make his way in wine. Happily, for us oenophiles, he chose wine over acting. And from then on, the world of wine literally opened up before him, largely to due his innate charm and a fair dollop of ‘front’.
Although there’s no doubting Oz’s ability as a professional taster, he seems to do a lot more drinking than spitting in the book. (Setting the tone, he first gets drunk on page one, aged just three, while his brother was dramatically rescued from drowning at a family picnic).
While I know this to be true, I’m fairly sure that some of the tales are a tad tall in the telling. But no matter because one of the many great things about this book is how Oz makes you feel you are right there with him, every inebriated step of the way.
And it’s a hell of a journey. Over a 40-year period Oz has been everywhere and back again, several times. Like a brilliant tour guide he breezily escorts us to all the various wine regions he has visited and become passionate about. We also meet many of the characters he befriends en route – Len Evans, Jilly Goolden, Serge Hochar, Bob Mondavi, Michael Broadbent, Piero Antinori and more. There are also some delightful walk-on parts by the likes of Patrick Stewart, Julian Fellowes, Hughie Green, James May and Trevor Nunn.
You can tell from his delicious prose that the author thoroughly enjoyed writing this book. I found multiple passages I wanted to sip and savour, but mostly I just gulped them down greedily. My advice therefore is not to read it on the tube unless you’re happy to miss your stop.
But I do urge you to buy and read it for yourself and then buy it for your friends for Christmas – even (or especially) if they are only half-interested in wine. They’ll be hooked before Oz has even left Oxford.
Oz Clarke discussing Red & White at our Decanter Fine Wine Encounter in November.
‘Red & White: An unquenchable thirst for wine‘ is published in hardback by Little, Brown priced £25. Buy here